The Adventures of Uju in Indonesia – #3 In the Middle of the Night

Right after our very exciting hike on Pulau Sempu, we packed up and departed Malang at midnight to head to the village of Tongas, where we were met by the jeep and driver who would take us on the sunrise tour to Bromo. Uju wanted action-packed, and she got it.

At 3 am, the driver drove us into the caldera to head to Penanjakan 1, which apparently has different views than Penanjakan 2. Our Bahasa was stretched beyond limit, because we weren’t sure what exactly we were doing, driving around in the mist. Turns out, the driver had no clue either. We followed two other jeeps who followed us, all in the dark, and we narrowly missed tumbling into the ravine in that volcanic ash. Just kidding. Anyway, our driver decided it was smarter to eat humble pie, apologised for his appalling sense of direction, and offered to take us to Penanjakan 2 instead, the tried and tested spot. We had no complaints with that. In fact, as soon as I realized we’d be the first ones there, I got excited at the prospect of ‘shooting stars’, and quickly hired the horse to haul me up. Souvik and Uju decided to take the hard way on two feet.

Starry night it was, and we were much too early.

Bromo at sunrise

 

So we stood around, shivering in the cold, taking some long exposure shots undisturbed by people, noise and flash photography.

Bromo at sunrise

 

And we waited. And shivered.

Bromo at sunrise

 

And waited. And shivered some more.

Yeah, you get it, right? I also got cursed by my loving companions for getting them up there so early. So we waited.

And then there was a big cloud cover, and we didn’t get to see the sun rise. It just got bright all around.

Bromo at sunrise

 

By which time there were hordes of people joining us and taking ‘flashy’ pictures.

So we decided to be silly ourselves.

Bromo at sunrise

 

Actually that’s the goody photo. Here’s the silly one. Uju couldn’t hold her pose for 25 seconds, so she’s all blurry.

Bromo at sunrise

 

We needed to squeeze some more juice out of our Bromo visit, so up the volcano it was for Uju. I decided to sit out this one, so that we could finish the tour on time, and not take 3 hours to climb 200 steps.

Bromo at sunrise Bromo at sunrise

 

I crossed the ravine in daylight, and got some interesting views. Imagine – it’s all ash, no rock!

Bromo at sunrise Bromo at sunrise

By this time the sun had started to thaw us, and all the dew from the ground started to steam up.

Bromo at sunrise

The biggest surprise for me was the greenery. Just a few months back, we’d been here, amazed at the brownness of the landscape, and now, it was showing signs of life after the wet season, even seeping into the caldera.

Bromo at sunrise Bromo at sunrise Bromo at sunrise Bromo at sunrise Bromo at sunrise

We took a pit stop at Java Banana, before driving off to Surabaya for the next leg of our journey.

 

 

The Sunrise Drama

The top activity at Gunung Bromo is to watch the sunrise, and for me, all the photo ops that go with it. We dutifully woke up at 3 am, donned our multiple jackets (it was cold in the morning!) and set out in the 4WD to the sunrise point. The driver found a spot to park with 100 other jeeps, and asked us to walk the remaining 200m. Uh…uphill of course. And it turns out the 200m is the elevation, NOT the walking distance. After negotiating a bend or two, I was out of breath again. What’s more, the sunlight was starting to show, so there went my opportunity to get some good night shots. Not wanting to waste any more time, I quickly accepted a ride on horseback (quite the veteran now), and was glad because the viewpoint was way up. Souvik the athlete made quick work of that slope on foot, keeping pace with me, the red cap being a good marker.

The mist had rolled in at night, just to add to the drama of the scene. I found my spot, set up the tripod, and clicked away.

 

 

 

 

The slope that we ascended had this dramatic effect from the mist and the sun’s rays and the dust from the morning traffic.

 

 

 

After we descended and set off on the drive through the caldera, our driver offered (for more money, of course) to take us to the Savannah, a green grassy area just behind Bromo.

I was eager to drive into the mist, and was not disappointed.

 

 

The Savannah was a surprising contrast to the Bromo landscape. It seems to me that the drops of dew from the night mist are enough to sustain and grow this vegetation. What a marvel of nature! (I read somewhere that there’s rain too.)

 

 

We had to get back for a final glimpse of Bromo naturally, and were delighted by the increased activity of the morning.

 

 

 

 

The calves ache and the knees creak, but I am game to do the Bromo sunrise again!

 

Jack & Jill went up the hill…

Souvik and I are recovering from a weekend of contrasts. We took advantage of the long weekend to trek up Gunung Bromo. This was technically our second trip, but if you consider the fact that the first time round we were looking at the wrong mountain, then this one was the eye opener.

I joined Souvik in Surabaya on Friday, and we drove straight off past Probolinggo to Sukapura, and checked into Java Banana. We needed lunch, but the restaurant at the hotel was not really keen to cater to guests, so we had to make do with some roadside mie goreng and set off towards Bromo right away. I knew all along it would be a killer trudge, and had been trying to ‘condition’ myself on the treadmill, but 3 km ALL uphill was way too much for my gasping self. All the wheezing genes of my forefathers made an appearance (or was it just my own unfitness?), and I stopped every 100 odd steps to catch my breath. To make it worse, Souvik looked like he was strolling in the park, and even lugged my camera bag most of the way. Not to mention all those ‘helpful’ fellows on motorbikes who offered to transport me to the destination. But I was determined to do it myself, and huffed and puffed my way to Cemoro Lawang, where we had our first sighting of the ‘lunaresque’ landscape of Gunung Bromo and its companions. Finally it seemed worthwhile to pull out that camera!

I was bent upon trudging through the ‘Sea of Sand’, so fortified by energy bars and armed with face masks, we started downhill toward the caldera. Downhill was no cakewalk we found out soon enough – the 30-40 degree slope took every ounce of effort to keep my balance and not go tumbling down that hill.

The Bromo caldera is not your regular pretty landscape. It’s all shades of grey and brown, a direct contrast to the hills and fields you pass on your way there. Walking through the sea of sand or volcanic ash, you start to realize that there’s a different beauty in this rugged scene. From the dust kicked up by vehicles and footsteps, to the play of light that adds another dimension, the view is simply breathtaking (and not just from the effort of walking!).

 

 

At the foothill of the mountain, another surprise awaits you. Horses, with offers to rest your tired feet and ride part of the way up to the Bromo crater. I resisted that offer for the longest time, but finally caved in because it was getting late and we did want to get up there and back before it got dark. The adventures on the horse is another story; I’m just thankful both me and the horse got up there without incident, while Souvik walked. The last mile was 200 steps, all covered in ash. So you have to hold on to the cement railing for dear life and haul yourself up. I set the record for the slowest ascent; luckily most people were heading down, so I didn’t hold up anyone else.

 

Once there, we were naturally agape at the activity bubbling in the dark and deep crater, letting out clouds of sulphur. The might of midget Bromo was obvious! (Hint: it’s not the perfectly formed conical mountain in the picture, it’s the squat one, with its head blown off, and occasional puffs of sulphur coming out of its big mouth.)

 

 

The way down was much much easier, but we decided to ride back on motorbike across the caldera – another hair-raising adventure. Back at Cemoro Lawang, we found some more mie goreng, and missed admiring the sunset behind Bromo. The break gave us impetus to walk back – how tiring can a downhill walk be? Energy in, caution out, no referring maps, and we lost our way twice. The first one was serendipitous – just  a parallel, shorter route with an intense gradient, like walking in 10-inch heels. The second mistake was foolish, and we ended up triple seat on a motorbike because the thought of backtracking 100m uphill would’ve been the last straw. Finally made it back to hot showers and cozy bed – I’ve never been so pleased to see hotel lights before!